President Bush is prepared to support additional hiring and budget power for a new national intelligence director, and the president's staff is preparing broader parameters for the job than he previously proposed, administration officials said yesterday.
Bush accepted the recommendation for the new position from the commission that investigated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the description his aides gave of the post did not include the authority over money and personnel that the commissioners insisted was essential to revamping the nation's intelligence structure.
Democrats and some national security specialists had complained that the job Bush proposed would make its holder a toothless bureaucrat, and the comments yesterday indicated that the White House sees a political necessity to beef it up. That could mean diminished authority for some current officials, notably Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, because the Pentagon controls about 80 percent of the nation's intelligence spending.
Under pressure from Democrats and families of Sept. 11 victims, Congress has begun a series of unusual August hearings on the commission's recommendations, with the aim of passing legislation before the Nov. 2 election. Commissioners have said they would lobby lawmakers to be sure the national intelligence director had the power they envisioned, and the White House appears to be moving rapidly in their direction.
A senior administration official, briefing four reporters yesterday, said that the White House staff is preparing options for broadening the job's definition, and that those ideas are to be submitted to Bush's national security principals and then to the president.
"The president wants us to move along," the official said.
The official said that one matter being considered is whether the legislation should spell out the details of the new office, or whether the law creating the post should be more general, with the specifics spelled out in a national security presidential directive or an executive order.
The campaign of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry charged in a news release yesterday that Bush's failure to create or support a national intelligence director earlier showed that "even after 9/11," the administration had been "weak on intelligence reform."